Around 300 BC, Hippocrates wrote that "all diseases begin in the gut." Without a healthy digestive system, other systems in the body don't get the nutrients they need to function, and can start to break down. Deficiency in vitamins and nutrients have been linked to problems ranging from depression or ADD to seasonal allergies and susceptibility to the common cold.
Here are 5 easy things you can do to naturally improve your digestion:
1. eat slowly and chew your food
Saliva contains enzymes that break down carbohydrates, starting the digestive process before you even swallow your food. Swallowing big un-chewed chunks of food also decreases the nutritional value you're getting from your food, because whatever is on the inside of the chunk doesn't get exposed to digestive enzymes. Eating more slowly and thoroughly chewing each bite will maximize how much of your food gets absorbed. Plus, you're less likely to eat more than your body needs - if you inhale your food, your brain doesn't get the "I'm full" signal from your stomach until it's way too late.
2. eat actual food
No matter how slowly you chew it, you're not going to get much nutritional value from a candy bar or a fast food burger. Cutting out processed food not only reduces your exposure to toxins like preservatives and inflammatory additives, it also makes room in your fridge for real, nutritious food. Not sure what I mean by "real food"? Here's a post about it.
3. eat more acid
Despite the huge marketing of antacids for conditions like heartburn or GERD, it's actually very common for people to not have enough stomach acid. Sometimes, what feels like heartburn can actually be food sitting in the stomach, not getting broken down. Apple cider vinegar or lemon juice are great for digestion, you can dissolve a teaspoon of either in hot water and add honey for a digestive tea.
4. eat fermented foods (no, not booze, sorry)
Fermentation has a ton of health benefits. The modern diet often doesn't include many fermented or cultured foods, and a diet high in sugar and processed food can kill a lot of the healthy bacteria and micro-organisms in the gut (or allow unhealthy ones to take over). An imbalance in gut flora is the secret culprit behind many digestive complaints. Fortunately, fermented foods like live-culture sauerkraut or kombucha can add beneficial organisms and restore the balance. Just make sure what you're getting is organic, alive, and minimally processed. The best way is to make it yourself, but if you don't have time, I love Farmhouse Culture's krauts.
5. de-stress before meals / don't eat and run
If you're always eating on the go, chances are you're not digesting your food as well as you'd like. Digestion happens in parasympathetic nervous system mode, which means your body is relaxed and your sympathetic nervous system is quiet. If you eat under stress, like while driving or doing work (yes, even if you like the work), your body stays in sympathetic mode and digestion is shut down. Eating while watching TV or looking at a computer screen does the same thing – even if you don't feel "stressed" per se, you're still in sympathetic mode.
So, shut the computer, turn off the TV, put down the work, and enjoy your food!